Kansas

In Muscotah, Kan., old-fashioned baseball is played, rain or shine, on Joe Tinker Day

Two re-created 1860s-era teams prepared to take the field on Saturday at Joe Tinker Day in Muscotah, Kan. The Westerns of Topeka Base Ball Club and the Lincoln Olympic Vintage Base Ball Club played in the grassy outfield because the diamond was muddy.
Two re-created 1860s-era teams prepared to take the field on Saturday at Joe Tinker Day in Muscotah, Kan. The Westerns of Topeka Base Ball Club and the Lincoln Olympic Vintage Base Ball Club played in the grassy outfield because the diamond was muddy. deulitt@kcstar.com

Rain spoiled the infield Saturday at Joe Tinker Field.

Soaked and muddy, the diamond built to honor Tinker, a native son of Muscotah, Kan., and famous Chicago Cubs infielder, was unplayable.

But on Joe Tinker Day, celebrated Saturday in Muscotah, the cloudy weather didn’t stop the Topeka Westerns and the Lincoln Olympics from playing their game. After all, the Olympics had come all the way from Nebraska.

The teams played a rough brand of 1860s baseball, eschewing gloves, helmets and other niceties of the modern game. Abandoning the diamond to play their game in the grassy outfield was no big deal.

The old-fashioned baseball game has become an attraction in this small town 30 miles west of Atchison. The first Joe Tinker Day was celebrated in 2013.

The event, which has drawn spectators from across the state and the Kansas City area, was the brainchild of Jeff Hanson, who hopes to leverage the Tinker Day games and a baseball-shaped Tinker museum into tourism for the town of about 200.

Though some neighbors initially viewed him as a dreamer, Hanson has won over many in the past three years. The old-fashioned ball games have been a hit with locals and visitors.

“That’s what makes the difference, is the fun,” Hanson said. “When this excitement is all over, we’re going to see about actually working on the museum end of it.”

The museum remains unfinished in Hanson’s front yard, the round tank of an old water tower painted white with red stitching. Hanson bills it as the Joe Tinker Museum and the “World’s Largest Baseball.”

The giant baseball looks good, freshly painted. The interior needs work. Hanson already has plenty of memorabilia to fill it, and Tinker fans across the country send him more almost every week.

Tinker, born in 1880, remains famous in part because of his role in the poem “Tinker to Evers to Chance,” which fans will tell you is second only to “Casey at the Bat” in baseball folklore.

On Saturday, cloudy weather and a threat of rain dampened attendance numbers, but more than 100 people still turned out, most from northeast Kansas.

For Mike Lee of Muscotah, it was another chance to see baseball as it was once played. Lee said he first saw this brand of baseball at the inaugural Joe Tinker Day and brought his son and nephew out to see it again Saturday.

“I thought it was cool,” Lee said. “It’s kind of nice to know how much the game has changed.” Which would be a lot — since the Civil War era. Ben “Big Train” Coates, of the Topeka Westerns, told those in attendance how the game was played back then.

The players used no gloves, catching the ball with their hands. No balls or walks were called, and players could strike out only by swinging. An infielder could make an out by catching a ball after one bounce.

In the end, the Westerns defeated the Olympics 26-5. The Topeka club scored runs by hitting the ball through a wire fence in left field and into a horse pasture, resulting in ground-rule doubles.

It was a fitting outcome and probably not unfamiliar to the original Westerns who played the game 150 years ago.

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